Measuring productivity – is it healthy?

Having recently embarked on some work for a well-known household name I have felt the effect of some very rigid and somewhat unhelpful tools for measuring productivity. There has also been a huge outburst in the media here in the UK about Sports Direct and their draconian monitoring of the productivity of warehouse workers.

We now have the ability (but more worryingly the desire) to see how fast our employees walk, how long their toilet breaks are and how many widgets they can carry per hour. This sort of measurement focuses only on actions that the employer has previously determined will help the business, not on actions that the employer has forgotten about (productivity failure there for the board) or on problem-solving and thinking.

What should happen if an employee takes the time to stop and think (and possibly find an improved way of doing things) in a warehouse? What if he or she could suggest moving the racks  of widgets so that they and their colleagues do not have to walk so far in a day? Potentially an employer is removing the likelihood of the business becoming more productive!

So productivity tools do not measure the usefulness of thinking!

There are many bad things about measuring productivity, enough perhaps to write a book about but here are a couple more to get you thinking.

In order to foster a culture of innovation we need to embrace ambiguity and we often have to perform non-standard activities – we need to take risks. Activities such as prototyping or research are often unplanned with uncertain outcomes. Our productivity measurement machine would not like this. Do you think this is helpful to our innovation efforts or will most employees conform because it maximises their pay at the end of the month?

Core features of innovation are killed by productivity tools!

Innovation is a team or perhaps company-wide activity but our monster measurement tools are usually looking at what individual employees are doing. This does not recognise the fact that individuals contribute in different ways or more importantly that when an employee has an off day his or her colleagues can rally round and help. No, we must let poorly performing individuals drown apparently.

Productivity tools are looking at the wrong things! 

These are just a few ideas on why such tools may not help. If you use any tools to help measure productivity or the performance of employees please take the time to think about what you want to achieve, and why. More importantly think about what these tools could be stopping you from achieving (thinking, team working, less stress, innovation …).

Oh, and I forgot to say that simply introducing such a system introduces an overhead anyway (not good for productivity is it?).

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